Surrounded by white men in suits. Cameras flickering then flashing. Hands laid flat upon table. Nodding pensively. Swinging pendulum of opinions “we are happy” to “we have many reservations.” Judge Sonia Sotomayor listens as senator after senator summarize their thoughts about her appointment to the highest court in the land . . . a court that is in desperate need of cultural diversity. Judge Sotomayor is a woman of color who worked her way through various obstacles to become a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She now stands upon the precipice of being the first Latino and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Given her speeches and public record, she seems to be committed to a more radical agenda for marginalized communities then most sitting Supreme Court Justices. Can you feel my excitement?
However, as the constitutional sanctioned witch hunt her senate appointment hearings commenced on Tuesday, Republican after Republican sought to second guess her judicial decisions, paint her as a racist, talk to her as if she was a simple child just learning about the Bill of Rights, and make her “cry” or as Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican) put it, “have a meltdown.” I find myself asking questions: What would happen if Judge Sotomayor cried? What would happen if she wept for all the lies Republican Senators spewed as they talked about the founding “fundamental” freedom to carry guns even though they used them to kill indigenous people, the quality of life even though they don’t fund policies that enrich the lives of children once they are here, the colorblind justice of judicial process which always favors white men, and the essential ethic of hard work even though it does not guarantee success for all? What if she like newly appointed Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, shed a tear or two on national television? How would we respond to a woman of color leader weeping in a public arena?
Would we respond as so many responded to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tears during the Democratic Primary races? Would we question her strength, her ability to lead? Would we say she’s being manipulative trying to garner sympathy? And the answer to the previous questions is yes, but with an added level of scrutiny because she is a woman of color. Given the intersectionality of racism and sexism, we often expect if not down right demand women of color—African-American or Latina—to be strong. Of course, this characterization is simplistic at best. However, there is much evidence to say that this idea of strength serves cultural, racist, sexist, and capitalistic agendas from using the image of the strong black woman to empower black women while denying them “help” to painting Chicanas as women who can endure harsh and exploitative work without US citizenship.
Growing up I was taught not to cry because my mother says, “There ain’t no point in crying over spilled milk chile . . . you got to do what you got to do and plus black women don’t cry we ain’t weak white women.” This idea of “you will always have” responsibility coupled with not being Miss Ann greatly shaped how I saw Judge Sotomayor confirmation hearings. I found myself yelling at the TV, “Please do not cry . . . Don’t let them see you sweat . . . You can do this keep it together . . . you’re strong, baby, you’re strong . . . if you got to cry do it in the bathroom on break.” Yes, even I would have a problem with her crying publicly which shows how pervasive sexist thoughts are about women in male public space. Of course, Judge Sotomayor did not cry even though her face showed a wee bit of discomfort as Republicans gave their opening remarks.
In general, it’s unfair that she cannot weep and not be considered a capable judge. It’s unfair that she cannot show any emotion for fear of being seen as “a feisty Latina.” In order to pass the racist and sexist litmus test she must be as Senator Tom Coburn (Republican) said, “very well-controlled.” However, what type of damage does this do? I think it reinforces the rules of a very unfair game where women, LGBTQ, and people of color constantly have to ignore, overlook, and sanction white male hetero-supremacy. This is not to say that crying is the ultimate evidence of feeling because it is not. However, what I am trying to say is that weeping should be taken as a sign of strength and not as a womanly sign of weakness. So, how radical would it be if she did cry . . . cried for the injustices of the appointment process . . . cried for her self as an act of self-care . . . cried because she really would like to call Senator Lindsey Graham every expletive under the sun (which I did as I watched him speak) . . . and cried because tears can only convey the totality of this experience in her life. And what if her “melt-down” became the basis for redefining strength and leadership in male public political spaces . . . . oh how exciting and down right revolutionary crying can be!